During the era we speak of as the Age of Ignorance the entire human race had become so depraved, so cruel- hearted that it took pleasure in the suffering of man. This is not poetry but supported by hard facts of history: man had turned a demon who was most enthusiastic to witness the death and suffering of his own species. He prized the spectacle of the pangs of death suffered by human beings more than the pleasure he derived from merry-making, eating and drinking.
Gladiatorial sports involving combats between men and wild beasts under the Romans displayed more vividly than any other crime against humanity, the abyss for human nature to sink. But this was not an enormity that had captured the imagination of a few guilty conscience. Writing about the immense popularity of these shows Lecky says in his History of European Morals that the magnificent circus, the gorgeous dresses of the assembled Court, the contagion of a passionate enthusiasm thrilling almost visibly through the mighty throng, the breathless silence of expectation, the wild cheers bursting simultaneously from eighty thousand tongues, and echoing to the farthest outskirts of the city, the rapid alternation of the fray, the deeds of splendid courage that were manifested were all fitted to entrance the imagination.’ (W.E.H. Lecky: History of European Morals, Vol. l, p.119.). The interest and enthusiasm that attended these games of inconceivable atrocity was so intense that special laws were found necessary, and sometimes insufficient, to check them.
Thus, the beast in man had taken hold of him during the Age Of Ignorance. He had, by his deeds, furnished the proof that he had forfeited the right to live in this world, or, rather, he had himself lost every desire to remain in this world any more. Yet, his Lord and Master, the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful had decided other- wise. He wanted to save the world and the progeny of Adam from death and destruction through a Messenger who was told that:
“And (O Muhammad) We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples.”
It is plain as day that the entire duration of the world’s existence since the debut of the holy Prophet of Islam stems from his merciful deeds. First of all he removed the Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of humanity by giving it a new ideal to live for and a new zest and confidence to work for it. A new age of culture and civilization, arts and learning, material and spiritual progress-a new brave world-came into existence through his efforts.
The first and foremost service that be rendered to the humanity consisted of the faith in the Oneness of God. No other creed more revolutionary, more life-giving and more profitable could have been vouchsafed to the humanity. Man had been proud and presumptuous, boastful of his creations Eke philosophy and poetry and the art of government; he took pride in enslaving other countries and nations; often arrogated himself even to the position of God; but he also demeaned himself by bowing his bead before inanimate, lifeless objects, things of his own creation and the mountains, rivers, trees and animals; and harboured credulous beliefs and irrational fear of the demons and devils. He spent his life in the fear of the unknown and the hope from non-existent powers which could not but foster mental confusion, cowardice, doubtfulness and indecision in him. The Prophet of Islam made him self-reliant, courageous, rational and undoubting by removing the fear of everything else save that of his real Master and the Lord. It was because of him that man came to recognise his Creator as the Supreme Power, the Enricher and Destroyer. This new discovery meant a world of change for him as he cut himself adrift from all superstitious beliefs, irrational fears, dubiousness and misgivings. He could now see the unity of cause in the manifoldness of phenomena, was reassured of his pivotal position in the scheme of creation, became aware of his worth and dignity, in short, his acceptance of the serfdom of the One and only God made him the master of every other created being and object. It was, thus, for the first time that man became aware of the exalted position allotted to him by God.
Unity of Godhead came to be recognised, thank to the last Prophet, as the guiding principle for all schools of thought, philosophies and creeds. Even polytheistic religions were so powerfully influenced by it that their votaries began to fight shy of their creeds and started putting up constructions to explain away their rites and observances demanding devotion to gods and demi-gods. The heathen belief in the worship of numerous deities began to suffer from a sense of inferiority from which it has still not re-covered. This was the greatest gift bestowed on humanity by the holy Prophet.
The second great favour conferred by the Messenger of God on human beings was the concept of equality and brotherhood of mankind. The world before him was divided by manifold divisions of castes and creeds, tribes and nations, some claiming ranks of nobility for themselves and condemning others to the position of serfs and chattels. It was for the first time that the world heard the revolutionary message of human equality from the Prophet of Islam.
“O Mankind, Your God is one and you have but one father. You are all progeny of Adam, and Adam was made of clay. Lo! the noblest among you, in the sight of God, is the best in conduct. No Arab has any preference over a non-Arab save by his piety.” (Kinz-ul-Ummal)
The Prophet made this declaration on the occasion of his last Haj before a congregation of one lakh and twenty- four thousand persons. His announcement put the seal on the twin principles of the Unity of God and the Unity of mankind. These are the two natural foundations for raising any edifice of peace and progress, friendship and cooperation between different peoples and nations. They create a twin relationship between human beings-that of One Lord and one father for all of them. Oneness of God is the spiritual principle of human equality just as common lineage of the high and the low, the white and the coloured places them on the same plane of humanity.
The world was not in a frame of mind to give ears to the message of equality of human beings when it was first announced by the Prophet of Islam. It was then a radical call, making a clean sweep of the then social relationships and economic and political orders. So striking and revolutionary was this call that it had sent the world into jitters. Today we find the principle of human equality enshrined in the constitutions of different countries and being proclaimed from the forum of the United Nations Organisation in the shape of the Charter of Human Rights but it was all due to the pioneering efforts of the followers of Muhammad, Muslim missionaries and reformers, who made indefatigable efforts to establish a truly egalitarian Muslim society. It was this model established through their toil and tears that later on came to be accepted as the standard for human existence in this world. There was a time when numerous clans and families claimed their descent from the sun or moon. Quran quotes the belief then held by the Jews and the Christians in these words: “The Jews and the Christians say : We are the children of God and those whom He loves.” (V: 18) The Pharaohs of Egypt claimed them- selves to be the incarnation of Sun-god while India had several ruling families which arrogated themselves as the progeny of sun and moon. The Emperors of Iran called themselves Kesra or Chosroes which meant that Divine blood flowed in their veins. The last Iranian Emperor was known as Yazdgard chiefly owing to the Divine respects paid to him by his subjects.
The Chinese rulers deemed themselves to be the sons of Heaven. They believed that the Heaven was their god, who, with his spouse, the goddess earth, has given birth to the human beings and P’au Ku, the Chinese Emperor, was the first-born son of Heaven enjoying supernatural powers. The Arabs were so proud of their language that every other nation besides their own was an Ajami or dumb to them. Likewise, the Quraish of Mecca being extremely conscious of maintaining their superiority, claimed a position of privilege even in the performance of Haj. This was the shape of things, all over the world, when the Quran heralded that all human beings were equal.
“O mankind! Lo ! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo 1 the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” (XLIX – 13)
In another surah, which is the opening chapter of the Quran, it was declared that- “Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.” (I:1)
The third great gift and a boon to the humanity bestowed by the Prophet of Islam is the Islamic concept of human dignity. During the Age of Darkness when Islam made its appearance none was so ignoble and humiliated as man. Without any worth, he bad absolutely no sense of human dignity. Oftentimes trees and animals regarded as sacred owing to religious beliefs or traditions, enjoyed a more coveted place than man himself. Human sacrifices at the altar of deities were a common spectacle. It was solely due to Muhammad, the Prophet, that man came to appropriate the fact that human beings, the glorious creation ‘of God, were entitled to much more loving regard, respect and honour than any other creature. The rank holy Prophet accorded to man was next only to God, for God had Himself heralded the purpose of man’s creation in these words of lasting beauty-
“He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth.” (II. 29)
Man was declared as the best of creations, the ruler of the world and all that exists in it.
“Verily We have honoured the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good thing for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment.” (XVII: 70)
Man had been accustomed to associate nobility with those who claimed themselves to be the progeny of gods and demi-gods. In order that the honour of the common man was not usurped again by the selected few, the prophet announced :
“The whole of mankind is the family of God and he amongst His family is dearest to Him, who does good to others.” (Mishkat)
A celestial Tradition of the Prophet alludes to the deep concern of God for the welfare of human beings. It says: “God would ask (someone) on the Day of Judgement, “I was ill but you did not pay a visit to Me.” The man would reply ; “How could have I paid a visit to Thee. Thou art the Lord of the worlds.” But God would say, “Do you not recollect that one of My slaves was ill. Had you gone to see him, you would have found Me by his side.” Then God would again ask, “O Son of Adam, I asked you to feed Me, but you refused it to Me.” The man would submit, “How could have I fed Thee, Thou art the Lord of the Worlds”. But the reply of God would be: “Do you not remember that one of My slaves had asked you for food. Didn’t you know that if you had given him food, you would have found it with Me !” God would again ask, “O son of Adam, I asked you water to drink but you refused it to Me.” The man would say in reply, “O Lord, How could have I given water to Thee. Thou art the Lord of the worlds.” But the reply given by God would be: “Do you not recollect that one of My slaves asked you for water, but you refused. Did you not know that if you had given him water, you would have found it with Me.” (Sahih Muslim)